Shipwrecked silk dress survives 400 years under water

A 17th century gown excavated from a shipwreck looks like it could be put on and worn to the ball.

Amanda Kooser
Freelance writer Amanda C. Kooser covers gadgets and tech news with a twist for CNET. When not wallowing in weird gear and iPad apps for cats, she can be found tinkering with her 1956 DeSoto.
Amanda Kooser
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Silk dress from shipwreck
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Silk dress from shipwreck

Found buried in the sand, this dress defied the odds and delighted researchers.

Kaap Skil Museum

Most items found in ancient shipwrecks show signs of the ravages of water, time and ocean critters. Wood and metal objects may hold up a little better, but fabrics are fragile and are usually consumed by the watery elements. One remarkable dress survived the odds. The archaeological miracle dates back to the 1600s and represents a fascinating tale of endurance.

The silk gown is now on display at the Kaap Skil Maritime and Beachcombers Museum on Texel Island in the Netherlands. Divers explored a wreck near the island in 2014 and found the dress buried in the sand. To protect the location of the shipwreck for further study, the museum waited until this week to unveil the find.

The dress, woven from silk with a floral pattern, is complete and seems to have belonged to a noblewoman. The museum dates it back to the first half of the 17th century. The design is very much in keeping with European fashion at the time, including a high collar and loose sleeves. The preservation of detail is remarkable, down to every ruffle, flower and leaf.

The dress is just one of many well-preserved objects recovered from the wreck. Divers also found an embroidered red velvet pouch, a lice comb made from horn, leather book covers and other clothing articles made to fit the same size woman as the gown. The sandy burial site helped protect the items.

One of the leather book covers includes a coat of arms from King Charles I of Britain, indicating that some of the cargo may have belonged to the royal family.

According to the museum and DutchNews, experts consider the find to be one of the most important textile discoveries in Europe. The museum exhibit runs through May 16.

(Via The History Blog)